Thursday, November 3, 2016

No need for Tribe fans to feel bad

In the aftermath of the most dramatic and exciting World Series in recent history, not nearly enough credit has been given the team that lost the series.

At the risk of sounding jingoistic, the Cleveland Indians pushed the Chicago Cubs to the very brink in a best-of-seven series that should have been over in maybe five games. Here’s why.

The Cubs are the best team in baseball. There are numerous reasons they won 103 games during the regular season and waltzed to the World Series. They hit, hit with power, play solid defense, have a terrific starting pitching staff and back that up with a premiere closer.

They were overwhelming favorites to end 108 years of frustration against the Indians. Half the country, maybe more, became Cubs fans because, well, 108 years was enough suffering for the fans of this beloved and yet woebegone team.

People who knew very little if anything about baseball but somehow knew about these lovable losers, became fans, maybe out of pity or perhaps because it was fashionable. They rejoice today, along with the team’s rabid fandom, even though they have no idea what it truly means to be a true blue Cubs fan.

So why did this series take seven games? And a 10th inning of game seven? Weren’t the Cubs supposed to finally bring Chicago’s North Side the championship with no problem? The Indians weren’t even supposed to be there.

Somehow, they parlayed good starting pitching, a sensational bullpen, good defense and outstanding clutch hitting from just about everyone who could swing a bat into the American League’s Central Division championship. You never knew from game to game who would be the next hero. It was a fun ride.

They won despite being without outfielder Michael Brantley, their best player, whose shoulder problems have forced him to miss nearly two full seasons. And then the starting staff was hit hard by debilitating injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, the Nos. 2 and 3 starters, shortly before the playoffs began.

Indians manager Terry Francona was forced to scramble. Josh Tomlin, his No. 4 man, became No. 2 and Trevor Bauer, his No. 5, was elevated to No. 3. That’s like entering a gunfight with only one bullet in your gun and none in your belt.

Putting that into perspective, imagine the Cubs losing Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks and manager Joe Maddon forced to pitch John Lackey and Jason Hammel at least twice each.

And yet, the Indians swept the Boston Red Sox in the first round and dispatched the Toronto Blue Jays in five games in round two despite being underdogs in both series.

It’s nice to see Cubs fans all around the country celebrate. Can’t begrudge them that. But doggone it, the Indians forced their team to do it the hard way and aren’t getting enough credit for that.

In television interviews following the emotional game, only two members of the Cubs family interviewed mentioned the Indians and praised them for their tenacity. Maddon was quick to praise Francona and his team’s effort. Cubs President Theo Epstein echoed those sentiments.

The Indians owning a 3-1 lead in the series after four games wasn’t supposed to happen. Shutting out the Cubs twice in four games was not supposed to happen. Limiting them to just seven runs in the first four games was not supposed to happen.

And then it all came apart, very much the way it came apart for the Golden State Warriors against the Cavaliers earlier this year in the NBA finals. The Cavs did it the hard way, coming from 3-1 down and beating the Warriors in the final two games on the road. The Cubs did it the exact same way.

It still it took a pulse-pounding, nitro-taking ending for the Cubs to finally subdue a team that was inferior to them. Unfortunately, history will not look at it that way. It will see the Cubs ending a 108-year baseball famine.

The fact the Indians, down by four runs midway through the deciding game, took the Cubs to the 10th inning and damn near tied it again speaks volumes of a team that played well beyond its capabilities.

As an aside, I am fortunate to be the main public address announcer for Indians and Cincinnati Reds spring training baseball at Goodyear Ballpark. Have been for the last six springs. After what I saw this past spring, I can’t honestly say I saw this coming.

I am nevertheless extremely proud of what Francona and the Indians have accomplished this season. They exceeded all expectations. Even though they lost, Cleveland has no reason to feel down about this team or franchise. It is in good hands.

So enjoy the nirvana, Cubs fans, of finally, finally winning a World Series after wandering for more than a century. You deserve it. You were the better team. No argument there. My only question: Why did it take seven games and an extra inning? 

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